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Prolegomenon to a History of Korean Roy Andrew Miller If we are ever to have a history of the Korean language, it will first of all be necessary to arrive at a significant measure of agreement concerning the linguistic significance of the earliest Korean written records, especially the fragments that provide documentary evidence for a number of lexical items in what appear to be at least three distinct (and probably originally also separate) varieties of Old Korean, namely, the languages of the Koguryö, Paekche, and Silla kingdoms.1 To hope for anything approaching a true scientific consensus on the constellation of problems with which these Old Korean fragments confront us would probably be to expect too much, at least over the next several decades. But this should not rule out the search for some degree of agreement upon a working hypothesis governing the employment, interpretation, and historical-linguistic significance of these fragments. Without at least some minimal amount of conformity on this particular issue it is difficult to see when it will ever be possible to write a history of Korean. Even more important, until these issues are more thoroughly ventilated than they have been in the literature to date, we will necessarily remain in the dark not only about when but also about how such a task is to be undertaken. And the task of at least attempting to write such a history ought, in fact, not be delayed too much longer. Today many aspects of the questions that surround the history of the Korean language admittedly remain in need of further urgent investigation. But even under these circumstances , it should now be possible at least to begin such an undertaking with fair assurance of success. But whenever and however the task is eventually taken up, a history of Korean will become feasible only to the extent to which we are able to bring to bear those three basic, parallel, PROLEGOMENA TO A HISTORY OF KOREAN93 and closely interrelated techniques that have already been developed, mostly in Europe and particularly during the previous century, for the study of linguistic history: the scrutiny of written records; the comparative method of the neo-grammarians; and the principles of internal reconstruction. That written records and their study come first in this short list is no accident. Equally obvious is the truism that the older our written records, the greater their importance for the historical linguist. So also it follows, almost automatically, that the question of the significance and interpretation of the surviving fragmentary documentation for Old Koguryö, Old Paekche, and Old Silla takes on extraordinary importance when we confront the larger task of writing a history of the Korean language . Written records; comparison; and internal reconstruction—the effectiveness of the first is always dependent upon the quantity and quality of the available documentation, while, mutatis mutandis, the second and third may normally be expected to be of equal utility in virtually any linguistic situation. In the case of Korean, the happy accident of the existence of a large body of unusually informative written records for a considerably late stage in the language, in the form of the well-known late Middle Korean texts, has tended to focus scholarship primarily upon the first of these three techniques available for writing the history of language . And as if to compound the problem still further, this same accident has tended to rivet attention largely upon the study of a fairly recent period in the history of Korean. As a result, we have a number of useful and even sometimes important handbooks and other studies that sketch much of what can be learned from the inspection of the late Middle Korean written records.2 But these accounts almost without exception remain unillumined by the light that might otherwise be cast upon many of their problematic issues by the largely untapped resources of the neo-grammarians' techniques of comparison and internal reconstruction. By much the same token, these histories of Korean that for all practical purposes do not even seriously attempt to go back much further than the middle of the fifteenth century have tended to isolate the Old Korean fragments from the mainstream of Korean linguistic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 92-112
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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